The ideas mattered most of all in 1980. That seems the point the party of 2012 hasn't grasped yet: not even half as well, perhaps, as Barack Obama seems to grasp it in his own way. Awful as the notion might be of a national health care system the country can't afford without economic ruination, Obamacare is an idea -- a stab at curing a perceived problem. It's out there. It's something. The GOP has no "something" with which to counter it. The spade work has never been done or to the extent some things have been done (e.g., Congressman Paul Ryan's sensible voucher plan), they haven't been embraced and sold. This is because no overarching vision informs Republican policy wonks.
Where's "the vision thing," as the first President Bush called it, to justified derision? What we see instead of a structure for national renewal is a series of poll-driven talking points -- $2.50 gasoline, respect for the troops, overhaul of tax rates, the Keystone pipeline, and voter ID to prevent fraud.
Fine. Thanks for all of this. Where, nonetheless, is the vision? No vision, no inspiration. No inspiration, no presidential candidates to challenge and lead. The closest we come perhaps to inspiration in 2012 is Mitt Romney's entreaty to let him straighten out the economy in a businesslike manner.
What might serve? The vision of freedom, possibly? The vision of opportunity and growth in a climate of freedom? Why not? Prospects are small that the party of Barack Obama means to tout freedom (as distinguished from "choice" in contraceptive devices) as a goal worth winning.
Why not, in any case, make the underlying purpose of America -- life lived without chains -- a rallying cry in this most urgent of elections? On from there to the practical policies necessary to give freedom the needle jab ... and from there? Maybe to speeches and debates centered, for a change, on realities that in better times than these overshadow mere ambition, mere peacockery.